May 23, 2014
Sales Enablement… What Is That, Anyway?
There are lots of terms that get tossed around in sales forces, and many of those have very vague meanings. For example, ‘sales process’ and ‘coaching’ are two of the biggest offenders. Another term that we frequently hear used in various ways is ‘sales enablement.’
Sometimes this is a code word for a sales operations group, and other times it’s code for sales training. CRM will also get tossed into sales enablement conversations, as will any other technology that supports the sales force. So what’s going on with this sales enablement term? What does it really mean?
In the research that led to our best-selling book, Cracking the Sales Management Code, we discovered the real breadth of how people use this term. And its use is very broad. However, we were also able to categorize those uses and put them all into a box… The sales enablement toolbox, if you will. So what did our research reveal about ‘sales enablement?’
Basically, we found that sales enablement is a collection of tasks and tools that are intended to improve the execution of key sales activities. Activities like making sales calls, pursuing opportunities, managing major accounts, and targeting top prospects. You know, all the stuff that a sales force does. But our research also revealed that these tasks and tools all fall into one of four categories – categories that interestingly mirror the lifecycle of an employee.
First, there are Sales Enablement activities meant to improve the Recruiting and Hiring of a sales force. These are focused on ensuring that ‘the right people are on the bus,’ so to speak. In addition, sales enablement involves keeping all of the seats on the bus filled, so the sales force is operating at full capacity. These activities can be owned by sales, HR, consultants, or any one else, but the goal here is clear… Hire the right number of the right folks.
The next group of Sales Enablement activities falls into the category of Training and Coaching. Once the right sellers are onboard, a lot of effort is focused on improving their skills and knowledge. Again, the goal of Training and Coaching is to enable better execution of the sellers’ key activities. And like Recruiting and Hiring, these activities could also be distributed across organizational boundaries. Regardless of where Training and Coaching resides, the goal here is the same… Improve the sellers’ ability to sell.
The third bucket of Sales Enablement activities are focused on Equipping the sales force with supporting tools. Whether CRM, Internet portals, or other selling aids, an organization Equips its sellers with the tools to collect, structure, process, and report information that enables better selling. Whether high-tech or old school, Equipping the sales force to improve its efficiency and effectiveness is at the core of Sales Enablement.
And the final group of Sales Enablement activities is Assessment. These activities determine how well the salespeople and sales managers are performing their respective duties. Are the sellers skilled? Are they effective in their roles? Are they producing at their anticipated levels? Assessment activities essentially measure how well the sales force is performing across a range of performance criteria. And if the performance is sub-par… Back to the other Sales Enablement activities.
So ‘sales enablement’ is a term that gets a lot of use, but we’re not certain it’s been viewed with a lot of rigor. Our research revealed a simple way to think about it – as a collection of activities intended to enable better sales execution. And we start doing this by Recruiting and Hiring the right folks. Then we Coach and Train them to higher levels of proficiency. Then we Equip them with tools to support their selling efforts. And finally, we Assess their performance to ensure they’re on track to succeed.
And there you have it… Sales Enablement defined. We find that putting such clear definitions around things allows us to think more strategically about them. We believe Recruiting & Hiring, Coaching & Training, Equipping, and Assessing salespeople should be seen as the Sales Enablement continuum. When looking across this continuum, you might find holes in what your own company is currently doing to enable your sales force. And that’s a good thing, because then you know where to focus your Sales Enablement effort.
See related infographic below: